We paid for Economy Comfort seats on KLM but we’ll have to climb over passengers

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By | September 4th, 2016

When Maria Huang and her husband learned that they’d been assigned economy class seats on their 12-hour flight home on KLM from their Viking cruise, they were concerned.

They are both senior citizens who frequently need to get up from their seats. Both require sufficient space to maneuver themselves into and out of airplane seats, which doesn’t exist in economy class.

As the regular economy class seats don’t provide enough maneuvering room given the Huang’s limited mobility, they immediately upgraded to four Economy Comfort seats — two for each of them. The upgraded seats they reserved were configured in two-seat rows in the cabin of the airplane KLM planned to use for their flight, so that each spouse would occupy one seat in the row, next to an empty seat. The seats were also close to a lavatory.

Then they went online to KLM’s website to check their seat assignments. They discovered that the seats they had confirmed — and paid for — were no longer available on their return flight. KLM had resold them. Huang immediately called KLM, but was told that “the best KLM could do” for her and her husband was to offer them two Economy Comfort seats in one two-seat row and two Economy Comfort seats in one three-seat row. Whichever spouse was seated in the three-seat row would have to share the row with and maneuver around another passenger whenever leaving or returning to his or her seat.

This was not acceptable to the Huangs. They asked their travel agent to contact KLM and get their Economy Comfort seats back. Their agent called KLM’s administrative office, but got no response.

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Although the Huangs or their travel agent might have escalated their complaint using our company contacts for KLM, they contacted our advocates for assistance in getting back the Economy Comfort seats they paid for.

Huang’s case and its resolution raise the question of what compensation suffices when an airline doesn’t provide passengers what they reserved, potentially causing them hours of pain and suffering.

Were the Huangs entitled to the specific seats they reserved?

According to KLM’s contract of carriage, KLM doesn’t guarantee that passengers will be seated in the seats they reserve:


The Carrier shall make reasonable efforts to meet seat allocation requests but cannot guarantee the allocation of a given seat, even if the Reservation is confirmed for said seat. The Carrier reserves the right to change the seat allocation at any time, including after boarding, for operating, security or safety reasons, or for reasons of Force Majeure.

So KLM’s “take it or leave it” response to the Huangs is consistent with its contract of carriage.

But given that the Huangs purchased Economy Comfort seats in specific configurations for health reasons because of their ages and physical conditions, our advocates decided to reach out to KLM on their behalf.

KLM explained that:

The day before their return to Los Angeles the passengers were rerouted on Air France due to the unforeseen cancellation … for technical reasons. The Economy Comfort product is not offered on Air France and regrettably, similar types of seats could not be provided at the last moment on this fully booked flight. As per the terms and conditions of our seat options, they are eligible to a refund for this service not being provided for this flight. While this may be requested directly on our Website through the refund form, I have requested it on their behalf. The amount will be posted on the account of the credit card used for payment. … We reviewed this situation in light of Subpart F of 14 CFR Part 382 (Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel) of the U.S. Department of Transportation, which defines the requirements of airlines in seating accommodations, and have concluded it does not constitute a violation thereof. Nonetheless, we must advise that the passengers have the right to contact the U.S. Department of Transportation if you want that agency to consider further action on their behalf.

KLM also offered a $100 voucher off the cost of any future airfares for flights taken within one year.

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Unfortunately, this doesn’t solve the Huangs’ problem. Air France does provide a seating class similar to KLM’s Economy Comfort called Premium Voyageur, and it should have booked the Huangs in that class of seating on the rerouted flight. If it couldn’t do so, then KLM should have put the Huangs on a flight that could accommodate those needs by way of adequate customer service.

A refund of the Economy Comfort fees and a $100 voucher don’t compensate the Huangs for the seats they needed for physical reasons on a 12-hour flight – regardless of whether they are being legally discriminated against according to U.S. law.

And the Huangs don’t plan to fly on KLM in the future, so they have no use for a $100 voucher.

Should KLM have provided more compensation to Maria Huang?

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  • emnyc

    The Huangs should take KLM to small claims court. KLM’s representative or legal council most likely won’t show up and the Huangs will win by default. (Airlines are notorious for not appearing at small claims court, so the plaintif wins by default). What is more likely however, is that the Huangs will receive a phone call from the airlines counsel offering a settlement prior to the court date.

    This info contains more information on how to file in small claims court against the airlines.

    https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/air-travelers-tell-it-judge

  • It seems like all airlines can put in dozens of loopholes in their contract of carriage to get away with murder. What about a passenger contract of being carried? Partially joking!

  • cscasi

    Good thought, but would they want to go that route; having to file the paperwork, getting the airline served (which costs money) and perhaps having to make a court appearance). Would the court be near where they live? Just some thoughts. Still, a good idea.

  • ctporter

    Were the seats they chose at the time of purchase already taken? If not, how did someone else manage to come along and select the seats they had already reserved. I assume based on my own experience they have a receipt that shows the advance purchase, and seats selected. If the seats were indeed given to someone else then the airline should take them back and reassign them back to the person with the earliest dated receipt.

  • jim6555

    The passengers did not say anything about being returning to LAX on Air France. The correspondence from KLM says “the passengers were rerouted on Air France due to the unforeseen cancellation”. Was there a change of airline “for technical reasons”? If their original flight was cancelled, that would explain why they could not be accommodated in the seats that they originally reserved.

  • MarkKelling

    No airline guarantees you will end up in the seat you select when you book. You don’t “buy” that seat. They don’t even really guarantee you will have any seat if you read their contract of carriage. Seats are reassigned all the time up until the point where boarding passes are issued — people with higher status with the airline call in and say they want those specific seats and they get them. Or the airline moves people around so that families can sit together. Happens to me all the time, luckily I can usually pick another seat that works well enough for me.

  • FQTVLR

    According to the response from KLM their original flight was cancelled due to technical reasons and they were reaccomodated on Air France which does not offer the same type of seating. The OP did not mention that. Does not make this right, but explains the seating change.

  • Unfortunately, this also happens to those seats you pay extra for. So long as the gate agent calls it an “upgrade” they can move you anywhere they want.

  • AAGK

    I’m unaware of the economy seats that don’t allow pax to get in and out of them in flight.

  • AAGK

    What would the cause of action be?

  • DepartureLevel

    Lesson learned – you can pay for a product in advance but the seller may or may not honor it. Why are passengers even paying for this stuff. You’re chances are as good as a roll of the dice or worse.

  • ctporter

    But the actual logistics still do not quite work out. The airline had a flight scheduled, some seats were pre-assigned by purchases, with an equipment swap ALL passengers are now “reseated”. How did the other customers end up in the seats that were preselected by someone else? If there was a change in the quantity, and rows I could see losing your selection if you were in a row that no longer exists, but not if you are had selected a row that still exists. That is what bothers me about airlines and paying in advance for seat selections

  • marathon man

    Sat in a four across economy row once on delta returning from ams to bos and i was aisle. Next to me the other three seats were used for a man who sat on the other aisle but had an oxygen tank taking up space of the middle two seats… Well, not so much the one closest to me. He bought all three and had limited mobility and they honored it.

    So is the best way to ensure this selection to claim you need an oxygen tank?

    It reminds me of the time my mother in law was visiting us and broke her foot. So on her return she was in a wheel chair. Man, they whisked her thru everything and past everything with ease and she said she felt like royalty! We used to joke we should fake an injury just to get thru all of todays airport bullsh*t. But we wont really do that–the point is, if the airline can SEE your apparent disability they will accomodate, usually.

    Sadly, aircraft type can change. Maybe AF didn’t have enough seats to do the two each in economy comfort because it doesnt exist on that new metal, but then they still should have rebooked these people in two seats each and offered a cash refund of any seat upgrade as wel.

    So they would now have front or near front row regular economy but two seats each.

    But klm sucks so they didn’t

  • marathon man

    The saddest lesson learned here, as is the case with a friend of mine who is 7′ tall, is that if you wanna ensure any comfort on any flight, you need to pay for business class.

    How do you afford it?
    Be rich
    Be sent on a trip for your company
    MS

  • CasaAlux

    Something doesn’t seem to quite add up here – starting with the opening line of the article: “When Maria Huang and her husband learned that they’d been assigned economy class seats on their 12-hour flight home on KLM from their Viking cruise, they were concerned.”

    “Learned they had been assigned economy class seats”? What had they booked and paid for? If they booked and paid for economy, then why were they surprised and concerned when they received economy seating? If they booked and paid for a higher class, then why did they willingly go ahead and upgrade themselves to Economy Comfort instead of insisting on getting what they had paid for?

    Then the story about seating plans, and at the last minute a change of airline? I feel we don’t have the whole picture here.

  • Annie M

    At any time during this booking process did the Huangs advise KLM of their disabled status? That might have been noted in their record so appropriate accommodations could have been made.

  • Annie M

    Unless the seats are not available on the flight.

  • joycexyz

    In my experience, booking through the cruise line gets you economy seats. Then you go to the airline’s website and upgrade, ASAP. Very easy. However, sometimes a change in aircraft disrupts the best laid plans.

  • joycexyz

    Old age doesn’t qualify as a disability.

  • Annie M

    I agree nor is 65 old anymore. They have no disability other than not wanting to climb over someone.

  • C Schwartz

    I am feeling a little dense because I do not quite understand this. Each passenger booked two seats, outbound and return. The return flight was cancelled the day before and they were rerouted on AF. So if the flight was cancelled how could KLM have resold the seats, if that flight never took off? Or was there a seating issue before departure on the return flight and that return flight was later cancelled and the passengers put on AF? On the AF flight it sounds like they each had two seats — one person in a row of two, one person in a row of 3 — did the person in the row of 3 have a window and middle seat and that is why they would have to maneuver around another person? The person in the 3 row did not have an aisle as one of the seats? IT sounds like the AF rerouting was the way to leave the same day, Did KLM give them the option of flying KLM on another day and the airline paying for the hotel?

  • Don Spilky

    The OP were issued a REFUND for the upgraded class of service they didn’t receive (regardless of the reason). What additional compensation does everyone seem to think they are entitled to?

  • FQTVLR

    This was not an equipment swap but they were re-routed using a different carrier–now Air France and NOT KLM. and most likely assigned available seats. Those already booked on Air France would not have been re-assigned. Those coming from another airline would have be placed in seats not already assigned. KLM noted the complete change of itinerary in its response–something that was completely omitted in the original post. The way the post is written is very misleading and took me several tries to understand what had actually happened. The OP never mentioned that their flight was cancelled and that they were booked on another carrier entirely–one that did not have the seating they had booked on KLM. Jennifer only mentioned it after KLM did in its response to her.

  • Lindabator

    Their flight was cancelled due to technical difficulties, and they were re-assigned to an Air France flight – she probably would not have preferred waiting around a day or so for another flight

  • Lindabator

    not when they are flying on another airline – as was the case here!

  • Lindabator

    obviously, if KLM could pull up the change of airline, the FAA has the filing – just because the client checked in at KLM does NOT mean it was a flight OPERATED by KLM

  • Lindabator

    they were moved to AIR FRANCE – should THOSE passengers lose their seats because KLM was kind enough to reaccommodate these clients on a same-day flight?

  • Lindabator

    didn’t book 2 seats each – booked a seat each next to what was an empty seat at that time — perhaps aisles across rather than aisle and middle – and when moving clients to another airline, to see they actually got home the same day, they grab whatever seats they can — or she could have waited fof a flight with her specifications – just don’t know how long that would have been

  • Lindabator

    which is what happened here – when they were moved to Air France

  • Lindabator

    no they didn’t – they booked a seat next to what was an empty seat at the time – sounds like aisles across, so they could move around easier

  • ctporter

    That makes much more sense!

  • random_observation_source

    I’m missing something…
    It sounds like they were originally seated in a 2-3-2 aircraft, like a 767, and they booked two rows on the side of the plane so that each of them had the entire 2-seat row to him/herself. And when that aircraft became unavailable, the flight was moved to another 2-3-2 configuration aircraft, where they were given the option of one person taking a 2-seat row, and another person taking an aisle and middle in the middle of the airplane (a 3-seat row), so neither of them would lose quick and easy access to the lavatory. Who did they have to climb over on the new airplane?

  • Noah Kimmel

    ….by screwing over another passenger who chose “available” seats?

    the article implies they were moved to another flight, its not like they gave up their seats. comparable seats were not available on the new flight. They could have chosen to decline that option and look for another, but they didnt.

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